A very fine Big Idea

never let it be said that Britain doesn’t have a vibrant and burgeoning jazz scene.

Mark Lockheart is one of the busiest and most respected sax players in the country, and for his current tour he’s assembled a fantastic group featuring four marvellous saxophonists with a killer rhythm section. It’s pretty rare to see four sax players in a contemporary jazz setting in the UK – it’s not often that anyone can afford to take that kind of project on the road, but Mark has managed it.

Due to my having a gig on the same night, I won’t be able to make it to the London gig next thursday, so last night, Orphy and I headed out to Oxford to see ‘Mark Lockheart’s Big Idea’ play at The Spin, a weekly jazz gig at The Wheatsheaf in Oxford. I’d heard a lot about the gig from friends who’d played there, so was looking forward to checking out the venue too.

The gig was fantastic – playing mainly music from Mark’s latest album Moving Air, with Mark, Julian Siegel , Steve Buckley and Rob Townsend on saxes and bass clarinets, Martin France on drums John Parricelli on guitar and Dudley Phillips on bass.

Mark has a very distinctive writing style, that can be traced all the way back to the tunes he wrote for seminal british jazz outfit, Loose Tubes in the mid 80s. The horn arrangements are stunningly beautiful, and he made full use of the dynamic possibilities of having four horns on stage. Parricelli was on rare form, playing beautifully and blending with the sound of the horns magnificently.

Fortunately, the room was packed, and the audience were hugely appreciative. It’d be mad to suggest that Britain was in any way deficient in the jazz world – I guess the problem, as it is in most parts of the world, is a lack of places to play anything other than standards. The main jazz gigs in London are restaurant gigs, with venues like The New Vortex and Ronnie Scott’s doing their bit to promote interesting vibrant music. It’s still tough to find a gig, moreso now that the foyer gigs are the Festival Hall are on hold while the renovate the building.

So, in the spirit of last night’s gig, I’m going to offer you a beginner’s guide to the British Jazz scene – a handful of essential CDs that prove our place alongside the Americans and Scandinavians, while still all sounding uniquely British…

– The obvious place to start is with Theo Travis – his last two quartet CDs, Heart Of The Sun and Earth To Ether are both outstanding.
– Next up would be Ben Castle – his last album Blah Street is marvellous – clever, funny and intelligent in all the right ways.
– Of course Mark Lockheart who inspired this list in the first place – his latest, Moving Air is fabulous.
– And then there’s Mo Foster – any of his records are worth getting, but particularly Time To Think is gorgeous.
– Another one featuring Mark Lockheart, the Works is Patrick Wood’s amazing quartet – what Weather Report would have sounded like if they’d grown up in London. Beware Of The Dog is one of my favourite instrumental albums from any part of the world, not just the UK.

If you were to buy that lot (and I think you should), you’d have a pretty decent representation of why I’m excited about the future of British music, rather than wallowing in the despair that would ensue from burying yourself in the world of X-Factor, Pop Idol and the lame faecal mountain that is the pop charts.

Soundtrack – some tracks that I’ve been recording over the last three days with american fretless guitarist, Ned Evett – some really really cool stuff (to add to the stockpiles of other really really cool stuff that are sitting here waiting to be released!) – hopefully I’ll have an MP3 taster or two for you soon from this lot…

A picture speaks a thousand words…

Picture nabbed from Jyoti’s blog.

Yup, that’s an old bloke – Walter Wolfgang, 82 years old, who came to England as a Jew persecuted under the Nazis. At the Labour Party conference, he was bodily thrown out for shouting ‘nonsense’ during Jack Straw’s (Jack Boot?) speech on Iraq.

So not only are the Govt still trying to defend the disaster in Iraq, they are throwing out old men for disagreeing – he wasn’t being threatening or rowdy, or winding up ready throw a fresh dog turd at Straw (oh, that he had!), he just disagreed. But no, under New Labour such things are not allowed. And what’s more, he was prevented from re-entering the hall under the new Anti-Terror Laws!! WTF?? Since when was ‘nonsense’ hate-speech, or incitement to blow shit up, or whatever?

Blair’s half-arsed apology this morning was an embarrassment – a pathetic attempt to shrug off common assault taking place in the name of his party stifling dissent.

This quote from the Guardian sums up the government’s response

Returning to the scene today, Mr Wolfgang received a round of applause from both the conference floor and from party members standing outside. However, the two cabinet ministers on stage at the time, Lord Falconer and David Miliband, refused to join in.

Of course they refused – how could they applaud the exposing of a deeply flawed spin-machine-decision? They’d probably get thrown out of the cabinet.

in contrast, “Later, in his closing speech to conference, the defence secretary, John Reid, apologised to Mr Wolfgang with the prime minister applauding from the stage.” – that’s right, applaud the controlled written apology, worded to try and make light of the whole thing. But don’t join in with the rank and file plebs as they show support for an old man assaulted by hired goons.

How long are the labour party members going to put up with this?? The general public in Britain are on the whole way too apathetic to do anything about it on a national level, but those inside the Labour party who’ve seen their beloved institution stolen out from under them and replaced with some kind off hybrid ‘psuedo-compassionate Thatcherism’. It’s hideous, it’s tragic and it’s wrong.

The berk who man-handled Walter should be tried for assault, as should whoever decided on that as a policy. Wouldn’t it be great to have seen a mass walkout in protest? You bet your arse if it had happened in France that’s what they’d have done.

Too many white acts at Live 8?

A lot of news sources today have been reporting the accusation that the Live 8 bill for the UK gig is almost exclusively white – with Mariah Carey being the only person with any non-white genes on the stage (Maria is mixed race).

The response from the organisers was to first say that “Bob Geldof approached a number of urban and black artists to participate.” – that’s fair enough.

They went on to say “We look upon Live 8 as one global concert. A number of urban acts in the UK are hugely talented but they are not well known in Paris or Rome.”…

right, let’s have a look at some of the artists playing in the other venues –

Eiffel Tower, Paris includes Yannick Noah, Calo Gero, Kyo, Axelle Red, Johnny Halliday, Renaud – I’ve heard of Johnny Halliday, but there’s no way he can be described as international. He’s huge in France and unknown elsewhere. And he’s shit.

Circus Maximus, Rome includes Irene Grandi, Jovanotti, Nek, Laura Pausini, Vasco Rossi, Zucchero – clearly all big stars in Italy, but international???

So, drop the patronising crap about ‘UK Urban artists’ and represent. There are loads of people that could do it. If they want to reach out to everyone, why not book AR Rahman or Ashe Bhosle, and make the Indian community feel like they are a part of this (and expose the hopeless Sting and Elton John fans to something worth listening to). There are loads of people they could get in there.

I’m really into the idea of the gig, I love the fact that it’s about raising awareness not money, and that it’s going to get millions and millions of people thinking about issues of trade law reform and debt relief instead of just aid, but they’ve got to realise that there are more than enough white rock dinosaurs on the bill, and it needs to be a day for recogising not only Africa’s needs, but Africa’s strength and culture – so get some great African artists on the London show, and ditch one of the 80s losers.

SoundtrackJason Feddy, ‘Is This Thing On?’.

Beware Of The Dog

No, we haven’t just got a Dog (the fairly aged felines are particularly glad about that) – it’s the title of the new album from The Works, who used to be known as Woodworks, and are the brainchild of keyboard/guitar genius, Patrick Wood. Pat and I have played together a fair bit – it was fun getting him into my method of ‘spontaneous composition’ and we ended up with some fab stuff recorded, that still needs to be mixed and edited properly.

Anyway, this is his quartet, with Mark Lockheart on sax, Neville Malcom on bass and Nic France on drums – all major players on the London jazz scene – and it is, almost without doubt, the best album I’ve heard come out of that scene for ages. Actually, it’s on a par with Theo’s last couple of albums – which are equally amazing.

The compositions are quite Zawinul/Shorter-ish in places, but with a really strong singer/songwriter sensibility to them, which obviously connects well with me. It’s beautifully recorded, perfectly crafted, and has all four players playing right at the top of their game.

If anyone ever suggests that BritJazz is somehow inferior to US jazz, this is the album to play them to prove them wrong. If Patrick was from New York, this’d be selling tens of thousands of copies.

It’s fab, and you really need to get it. I’m going to talk to Pat about stocking it in my online shop.

Talking of which, I’ll have John Lester’s CD up there before too long.

SoundtrackThe Works, ‘Beware Of The Dog’.

Make Poverty History campaign goes global.

So finally, the Make Poverty History campaign is spreading out across the planet – in the US, it’s the One campaign, with its own white wrist bands and choice celebs. Click here to check out the One video – it’s good (though it did make me balk seeing Pat Robertson on it… guess it just goes to show how far this campaign is stretching across political divides!)

And that’s not all – there are now nationally focussed campaigns in Germany, France, Canada – Click here to see a list of all the partner campaigns

No excuses not to get involved, people…

Soundtrack – Kings X, ‘Live’; Talk Talk, ‘Spirit Of Eden’; Stevie Wonder; ‘Songs In the Key Of Life’; Renaud Garcia Fons, ‘Entremundo’; Tom Waits, ‘Asylum Years’; Bobby McFerrin, ‘The Voice’.

Can't get started.

Just got back (well, ‘just’ meaning late Saturday night) from a lovely week in the south of france. Enjoyable holiday, and a chance to brush up on my v. rusty french. Really ought to go there more.

The problem with holidays is getting started again when you get back. It’s especially tricky this time as on Saturday afternoon, just before we got the plane back, I tripped over on Nice beach, grazed my shin and have strained the muscles in my arms and shoulders. So I’m aching lots, and tired from the journey, and out of sync with what I was doing before I went away.

Sunday was a Soul Space service at St Luke’s, which was lots of fun – more ambient noodling, which is always a creative pursuit. Ambient church services are a great place for trying stuff out like that as it gives that elusive musical element – context. Playing ambient music in my stupidly untidy office is pretty tough, so I need to tap into other things to inspire whatever I’m working on. In a space like the chancel at St Luke’s, with cool projections, low lighting, candles and a theme (this week was the road to Emmaus), there’s something to play for, something to soundtrack, something to be inspired by. I had planned to record it, but the lead that connects my mixing desk to the minidisc player was needed to plug a laptop into my set up in order to play a couple of tracks off CD.

So now I’m trying to get working. I’ve got normal stuff to do, like buying birthday cards (seems almost everyone I know was born in April), and some food shopping, as well as things to do with next week’s gigs and other stuff.


SoundtrackSteve Lucas, ‘Gamma Jazz’; Muriel Anderson, ‘Heart Strings’; Andrew Cronshaw, ‘Ochre’.

Busy musical friends…

Thought a quick update on what various musical chums are up to would be pertinent –

First up, Theo Travis is on tour with his quartet at the moment. He’s got a new CD out that’s fantastic, and the tour is playing lots of tunes from that – click here for tour dates – he’s all over the UK.

Singer, songwriter and Burning Shed records main-man, Tim Bowness has got a gig in London on Monday – he’s very good! Click here for details of that.

Solo bass singer-songwriter, John Lester is on tour in the UK over the next couple of weeks – Click here for his gig details – one not to be missed, for sure.

Singer/songwriter Martyn Joseph is on tour throughout November and December – Click here for the dates – Martyn’s a hugely compelling performer, and well worth seeing.

And before he comes over here for the tour with me in a couple of weeks, Michael Manring is playing at a festival in France. So if you’re in France, go see him! check out his gig list here…

SoundtrackMatthew Garrison, ‘Shapeshifter’; Miranda Sykes, ‘Don’t Look Down’; Show Of Hands, ‘Dark Fields’.

So come on, own up, who the hell was voting UKIP???

So the UK Indepedence Party came third in the Euro Elections, gaining 12 seats on the European Parliment. Who on earth was voting for them? Is it just that people are scared of Europe but don’t see the European parliment as important enough to not waste a protest vote on it? The Greens are also against the european constitution, but also have a series of policies on everything else. UKIP are a pressure group, and a pretty daft one at that.

The ludicrousness of a political party with Robert Kilroy Silk and Joan Collins as it’s public face is to farcical for most comedy writers to have come up with it. Since when did I care what either of those two losers thought about anything? Kilroy only got back into politics because he was sacked for writing racist crap in the papers (he claimed that the Arabs have contributed nothing to world culture at all… huh? Clearly he’s not been listening to Andy Kershaw or Late Junction…). He’s a former labour MP, who went on to present daytime chat shows with people who married their step parents or fell in love with their pets or were bullied for having two heads, his perma-tanned faux-sincere frown fronting the UK equivalent on Springer without the comedy. He’s a moron. And Joan Collins? When did she even last live in the UK? Why is anyone concerned what she might think about anything? She’d be well into the UK getting into NAFTA given that she’s a UK citizen living in the US, but it’d be lunacy for the entire country.

There’s an article in this week’s New Statesman by a former UKIP party activist, who paints a picture of a highly divided party, whose only point of common value was their homophobia. Hey, that’s a great party image…

So they came ahead of the Lib-Dems in the Euro-Elections, which does say a lot about the Euro-Scepticism of the UK population, and also that the Europhiles have a very long way to go in making their case palletable for the general public.

So while the sport obsessed section of the population are getting upset over England’s defeat by France in Euro 2004 last night (very funny it was too – two goals in extra time by the French – that came as a bit of a shock… DOH!), I shall be mourning the stupidity of the UK electorate…

Soundtrack – still me, I’m afraid…

Happy New Year!

Oh yes, it’s 2004. Another year over a new one just begun, as a songwriter no longer at the top of his game and desparately in need of his old writing partner once wrote.

So out with the old and in the new, hopefully. Or maybe it’ll just be ‘what goes around comes around’. Who knows.

I’m hoping for the usual crap – more time to read, more gigs, more CD sales, less big countries blowing up small countries, less reality TV, more properly researched documentaries, more decent comedies on TV, more going to the cinema, more exercise (!!), more journies on public transport, less using the car, more bass practice, less time wasted online… yeah yeah, right.

So this afternoon, I had a listen to an album I’ve not heard for a while – ‘Beyond These Shores’ by Iona. This is an album that when I first got it blew my mind, but as I’ve only got it on tape, and the tape is just about worn out, I hadn’t listened to it in ages. However, the small person has got it on CD, I remembered this afternoon. So put it on. and. wow. Unbelievable. Still as good if not better than I remember it. Great songs, amazing playing, fantastic production, moving lyrics (it’s a sort of concept album on the legend of St Brendan sailing from Ireland to America a few hundred years before Columbus…) – truly wonderful. Seriously, it’s great, get it.

It’s kind of apt at the start of a new year to be listening to an album about a journey into the unknown – not that stepping over into 2004 is like sailing the atlantic in medieval times – after all it’s just another day in ‘actual’ terms – but new year is a rite of passage, giving us a chance to pause, take stock, rethink, set some goals, change the way we do things, and also chops the past into convenient chunks for us to assess whether they were good or bad.

2003 was very different for me musically than 2002 – ’02 was the year I did the two big tours with Level 42 and The Schizoid Band, but ’03 was a year of fewer gigs but a lot of musical experimenting – loads of new improv settings, gigs with Orphy Robinson, Tess Garraway, Corey Mwamba, Filomena Campus, Josh Peach, Seb Rochford, Theo Travis, Mano Ventura, Michael Manring, Jez Carr, Harvey Jessop; I’ve also recorded loads of improv stuff this year – most importantly the new album with Theo Travis, but also material with quartets in France and Spain, duets with Matthias Grob, Luca Formentini, BJ Cole and Patrick Wood. Loads of space to develop new ideas, much of which will be launched on anyone who wants to hear it in 2004.

So, here’s to the new year – may all your gigs be well paid and your audiences attentive.

Soundtrack – The Smiths; ‘Louder Than Bombs’; Bill Frisell, ‘The Willies’; Rob Jackson, ‘Wire Wood and Magnets’; Iona, ‘Beyond These Shores’;

end of year roundup top 5s

So we’re rapidly approaching the exit of 2003 and the entrance of 2004, to take up the batton of time for it’s year in the spotlight. It can’t really be much worse than its younger sibling on a world scale (well, I guess it could, if the bush/blair axis of evil decide to invade more countries, and don’t realise that they really have no place being in Iraq… but I digress…)

Anyway, there have been some cool things this year, so here’s a series of top 5s to sum up my year (each of them is in no particular order…) –

top 5 albums from this year –

Athlete – Vehicles and Animals
Bill Frisell – The Interncontinentals
John Lester – Big Dreams And The Bottom Line
Bruce Cockburn – You’ve Never Seen Everything
Kelly Joe Phelps – Slingshot Professionals

Top 5 albums I got this year but were released ages ago –

Theo Travis – Heart Of The Sun
Rob Jackson – Wire, Wood and Magnets
Denison Witmer – Philadelphia Songs
David Torn – Tripping Over God
Medeski Martin And Wood – The Dropper

Top 5 musical collaborators this year –

Theo Travis
Orphy Robinson
Patrick Wood
Luca Formentini
BJ Cole

Top 5 fave gigs I went to –

Athlete – The Astoria
Bill Frisell – The Barbican
King’s X – The Mean Fiddler
Kelly Joe Phelps – The Stables
Bruce Cockburn – The Stables

Top 5 fave gigs played –

National Theatre Foyer (with Theo Travis)
Greenbelt (with Patrick Wood)
Derby Dance Centre (with Orphy Robinson and Corey Mwamba)
Constable Jacks (California – with Michael Manring)
Anaheim Bass Bash (with Michael Manring)

Top 5 International Destinations –

California (USA)
Garda Lake (Italy)
Le Monstastier (France)
Amsterdam (Holland)
Copenhagen (Denmark)

Heroes –

Tony Benn
John Pilger
Michael Moore
Michael Franti
Scott Peck

Villains –

Richard Desmond
Max Clifford

would’ve done top books and top films, but haven’t seen enough of either to
come up with a convincing list of good ones.

I’ll add more as I think of them, but that’s it for now…

Soundtrack – yesterday I downloaded the new version of WinAmp – WinAmp 5, and have been listening to various Shoutcast radio stations ever since!

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